The North Shore
The morning announced itself with the very welcome return of the sun and a clear, blue sky. Hawaii finally looked like what I imagined! With a full day ahead of us, we met early, only to find out that three of the people in our group still hadn’t arrived due to some particularly bad weather hitting the East Coast. One late arrival was there, but without her luggage. How she managed to tour that sunny, warm, humid day in jeans and a jean shirt without dying is beyond me.
Fruits and Flowers and Trains, Oh My
First stop was the Dole Plantation (Yes, as in the produce company). Not far from Haleiwa, the plantation isn’t just acres and acres of pineapple plants, but a diverse garden, and yes, a bit of a tourist trap, but a beautiful one. The tour includes a train ride showing all of the different flora they grow, including coffee, mangos, sugar cane, bananas, cocoa, etc. Despite it being a little bit of a poor man’s Disney ride, the train ride offers beautiful views, especially when you find out that Dole owns just about everything for miles surrounding the place. Incidentally, the train ride is called the “Pineapple Express” and there were more than a few obvious pot jokes. Personally, I thought it was kind fun, but its bumpy ride is murder on your kidneys.
Turtle Watching and Hiking Waimea Valley
We left the plantation and headed up to Waimea Valley, and along the way stopped at Laniakea Beach, which is famous as a preferred beaching site for local sea turtles. Unfortunately we only saw one, which I didn’t even see until I was literally on top of it, but he/she didn’t seem to mind. I think.
You be the judge.
Next up was a hike up Waimea Valley, a lush forest full of just about everything that could possibly grow in Hawaii,* and ended at a small waterfall with freezing cold water. Well, it felt freezing by comparison. A few of us either weren’t brave enough to jump in or didn’t wear/bring our swim suits, so we had to watch a few of the others yell and gasp as they hopped into the water. I managed to stick my feet in for a while, but pretty much made up my mind not to go all in if I ever wanted to father my own children someday.
* Interesting fact – much of what we think of as indigenous plants there aren’t native to Hawaii. Okay, maybe you remembered that from high school, but somehow I forgot about it.
Once we finished walking back from the waterfall, it was early afternoon and we were definitely hungry. We made an extended stop at the town of Haleiwa for lunch at the shrimp trucks and then shaved ice at world famous Matsumoto’s (You may have seen it on the Travel Channel), which was definitely worth the stop. The town is pretty rustic, and reminded me a little bit of Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It’s an artsy, laid back town that relishes its popularity with the surfers and is pretty much all locally-owned eateries and shops. We toured several of the art stores and found Bali Moon, a designer’s shop with all kinds of artwork and some furniture I wish I had the money and means to ship back (I ended up buying a few hand-carved wooden sea turtles). Afterward, we stopped at Waimea Bay for some beach time. There’s a beautiful beach there, and any other day would’ve been just what we needed, but the surf was way too intimidating for comfort (And by “intimidating” I mean at least 10 and 15 foot high monsters crashing down). What amazed/impressed/scared us was a line of kids standing in the surf and letting the waves pound over them. The lifeguards said the warnings were out for “swimming at your own risk” and we decided right then and there that it wasn’t the time to challenge Mother Nature.
There’s a Palace on Waikiki
We returned to the hotel with enough daylight left to enjoy some time at Waikiki Beach. Our neck of Honolulu ends right at the beach and even in the early evening, it was pretty crowded. If you’re thinking of a picture-esque, tropical getaway, this really isn’t it. It’s a nice, long beach, but you’re smack in the middle of the city, so it’s an odd scene with an urban jungle ending at the beach line. The sun was starting to set, but the air was warm and the sea felt amazing after a long day. As I mentioned earlier, I definitely noticed the number of homeless people scattered about. It’s a bit of a jarring experience to see beautiful people on the beach just a few feet away from someone who probably hasn’t had a bath, decent meal or roof over his head in a long time. I don’t think it’s too much to add that there’s a social statement made by that kind of symbolism. I would’ve thought that some of the surrounding hotels/resorts or police would chase the homeless away, but they pretty much camped out at any convenient spot on the ground.
Afterward, a few of us cleaned up and checked out the Moana Surfrider Hotel, also known as the “First Lady of Waikiki.” It was the first large hotel on Waikiki, and a palace compared to the other hotels around it. Even the lobby (Which reminded me of a plantation estate) was jaw-dropping gorgeous. One look at their in-house restaurant The Veranda convinced us that we should settle for the bar, and even the bar menu was amazing to eat from. We drank local beer (Kona’s own Fire Rock is an AMAZING pale ale) and ate appetizers until we were stuffed. According to Paul, we seriously didn’t want to know how expensive the rooms were at this hotel, and based on what I saw, I believe him.